North Carolina officials said Thursday that a group of violent inmates who were nearly set free because of a quirky 1970s law that limited a life sentence to 80 years are not eligible to receive good behavior credits that would shorten their sentences.
Gov. Beverly Perdue said the credits will only be used to improve an inmate's chance at parole. If the prisoners were never paroled, the earliest release would be 2054.
"I will continue to pursue all legal means of preventing the release of these inmates without any review by the parole board or any post-release supervision," Perdue said in a statement. "I have asked Sec. Keller to review all records to ensure that the inmates are not awarded any credits for which they are not eligible."
In Charlotte Thursday, the governor reiterated her feelings on the legal battle.
"Quite simply, somebody interpreted the law the way the law wasn't meant to be interpreted," Perdue said. "I feel good, I think we'll keep the prisoners in jail, I hope."
Inmate Bobby Bowden had successfully argued in state courts that his life sentence was defined as 80 years - something Perdue conceded in her statement Thursday. He had also argued that a new sentencing law that began in the early 1980s had cut his time in half and that additional credits - 210 days of good conduct credit, 753 days of meritorious credit and 1,537 days of gain-time credit - made him immediately eligible for unconditional release.
Staples Hughes, the state appellate defender whose office represented Bowden, said it was regrettable the state was spending so much time and money pursuing an argument that has no legal basis.
"It is difficult for me to see how their argument holds water," Hughes said. "They, in essence, are continuing to attempt to defy the rule of law. It has long since ceased to be a legal issue. It is simply a political issue and a mechanism for the governor to use to attempt to raise her popularity."
Some of the inmates, most convicted of rape or murder, were set to be released last month. Perdue later blocked the release by arguing that officials had improperly applied some of the credits.
The potential releases appalled victims and their advocates, partially because most of the inmates would be freed without any post-release supervision. Only one would have had official supervision, although those convicted of rape would have to register as sex offenders.
A handful of those inmates have been working toward time outside of prison, using volunteer or work-release programs to spend time in society. They can eventually be approved for supervised release by the parole board.
Last month NBC 17 talked with the son of Trooper Guy Davis who was shot to death in 1975. Thursday, Tommy Davis said he's thankful for Perdue's efforts to keep his father's killers in prison.
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